At LaGuardia, JetBlue and Alaska Customers Win in the Temporary Terminal Shuffle

You don’t need me to tell you that New York’s LaGuardia Airport sucks. If you’ve been even remotely near the place, you haven’t had a good experience. While long-term improvement is slowly happening, a band of airlines recently got together to put some short-term measures in place. The funny thing is that the airlines who orchestrated this, American and Delta, are the ones who actually end up with either the same or a slightly worse experience. It’s the others who really benefit.

This new plan is simply a bunch of airlines shuffling places. It’s not going to magically eliminate delays, widen the insanely narrow concourses, fix roadway traffic, improve public transit, or put more lounges behind security. That (well, except the “delay” and “public transit” parts) will be solved when the new terminal opens in 2417 (only 400 years to go!). But this shuffling can happen much sooner, in just over a month, actually. Here’s what’s happening on December 9:

For those who oddly prefer bullet points to awful photoshopping…

  • Alaska – moves from Terminal B (Central Terminal Area) to Terminal A (Marine Air Terminal)
  • American – moves the old US Airways operation from Terminal C to join the rest of American in Terminal B
  • Delta – moves the DC and Chicago shuttles from Terminal A to Terminals C/D with the rest of the operation
  • Frontier – moves from Terminal B to Terminals C/D
  • JetBlue – moves from Terminal B to Terminal A
  • Spirit – moves from Terminal B to Terminals C/D

I know what you’re asking… so what? Well, some people will be really happy with this. Others won’t. Let’s take a look.

Big Winners – Alaska and JetBlue
Both these airlines move from the overcrowded Central Terminal Area (B) to the quiet Marine Air Terminal (A). Is the Marine Air Terminal something amazing? Well, the old art deco building is absolutely stunning, but that’s mostly for show. The gates, which were slapped on years later, are nothing special, but they are coveted. It’s easy to move in and out of that terminal as a traveler. Most importantly, you can avoid the gridlocked roads that touch the other terminals.

Alaska may not care all that much. (By the way, you may be asking… since when does Alaska fly to LaGuardia? Remember the Virgin America purchase. There are a handful of flights a day to Dallas.) Sure this might make it more attractive than American or Southwest for those heading to Dallas, but then again, I doubt it’ll move the needle much.

For JetBlue, however, it’s great. The biggest issue is that there’s no real baggage system there, and for all those JetBlue travelers heading to Florida, that’s a big problem. This will be fixed before move-in. Most importantly, JetBlue has its fledgling shuttle to Boston. No Boston shuttle had been operating from the Marine Air Terminal since Delta moved those flights out a few years ago, but this will make JetBlue’s flights instantly more popular.

Not a Big Change – Frontier and Spirit
Neither of these airlines probably care which terminal they’re in, but you could do a lot worse than Terminals C/D. Check-in is in C while airplanes are at D. That adds a bit of a walk, but it’s not too bad. Someone had to move over there to make enough room in B for American, so these guys were the ones to do it.

Mild Losers – American and Delta
If Delta and American are the ones paying for this, how on earth are they mild losers? Well, let’s start with Delta. Yes, the airline will be able to consolidate operations in one terminal, but travelers on the Chicago and DC shuttles loved the Marine Air Terminal. It was quick and convenient. Delta has been building up LaGuardia as an actual hub for some time, so if anyone was connecting from Chicago or DC through LaGuardia, that involved a bad terminal change. But on those routes, you’d think Delta would be more interested in catering to the locals. Maybe not. It probably thinks that by having those flights in its main terminal, it can provide better lounges, food, etc. The point of the Marine Air Terminal, however, is you didn’t have to be there long enough to care about those things. For most Delta customers, this move means nothing. For the local Chicago and DC shuttle travelers, this is a negative.

Then there’s American. It was not good having legacy American in Terminal B and legacy US Airways in Terminal C. So bringing it all together in Terminal B is better, right? Eh, not so much. Here’s the new gate layout from American’s press release:

Hmm, that’s weird. Why would there be a shuttle between all the concourses? Oh, it’s because none of them are connected behind security in that archaic building. So connections will still require, in many cases, taking a bus. It may be a shorter bus ride, but it’s still a bus ride. (For employees, however, this is undoubtedly a big improvement.)

Further, the lounge situation gets worse. I’d bet there are more people today vs. in the new plan that can go to a lounge and then walk to their gate. Before there were lounges at the D gates in Terminal B as well as in Terminal C. Now, there will just be the one (probably soon-to-be-overcrowded) lounge at the D gates. Anyone not flying out of D will have to take a bus after leaving the lounge.

It’s not all negative. This should reduce ground traffic on the airside, and at least travelers on every airline will now go to one terminal for each airline no matter where they’re flying. In my mind, this isn’t as great of an improvement as it seems on the surface. We’re really just all biding our time until the new terminal opens up.

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33 Responses to At LaGuardia, JetBlue and Alaska Customers Win in the Temporary Terminal Shuffle

  1. Kilroy says:

    I admire your restraint in not mentioning the infamous quote from Joe Biden that compared LGA to a third world airport… That really struck a nerve with the NYC and NY State politicians, though I would argue that if anything it was probably more insulting to the airport authorities in places like Bolivia and Nepal.

  2. As a New Yorker, I think this is a big win for AA.

    The MTB (Terminal B) while not good, is far easier to get to than Terminal C/D. Last week, it took the bus an extra 15 minutes to get from Terminal B to Terminal D (only 2 of that was from D–>C). Having AA under one roof is a definite advantage. And, not having to contend with the hoards of Delta customers at Terminal C security is also a big plus.

    The only downside (and this is a personal one) is that the very infrequent times when I have to fly Delta (once every few years), I’ll no longer be able to use by AA status to by-pass the long security lines that are always present at Terminal C.

  3. A few thoughts:
    – JetBlue has been coveting the MAT for a long time. Dave Barger used to lobby for it. As a shuttle user, I absolutely love its convenience. It is quiet, quick, and small so bags and other things are lightening fast. But that works when Delta has 2 flights per hour out of 6 gates each at 76 seats. When JetBlue pumps 150 seat planes in there, it will get tight, fast. Especially with winter delays. They will need some big rennovation to have enough check-in, security lanes, and seating areas. While it could be a big win, I see it as more of a gamble then the sure thing JB thinks it is. And their infrequent fliers may be confused when their uber driver exits GCP 1 early to get to MAT!

    -Delta has operational benefits to consolidating in C/D. While the shuttle becomes less attractive, medallions still prefer to fly over the more convenient Amtrak. While locals will be annoyed, they will deal with it like they do for Boston or if they flew DCA/ORD on AA. At least they pick up a sky club. It does mean arriving at the airport a few mins earlier as the unpredictability with the traffic and security (which MAT was more immune to). I wonder if DL will rennovate more gates as “shuttle” branded and have coffee, newspapers, and all that. They have tried it in 2 different spots, so will be curious. One thing I hate is Delta’s use of the remote hardstands that bus from C all the way over east of D. I wonder if those will be used more now that DL is adding flights. Also wonder what will happen to the Admirals club AA presumably vacates in C – does it become Alaska boardroom? 3rd party lounge? retail? other?

    As for AA – while the central terminal is awful in almost every respect, at least they are “more” consolidated. No loss no big gain. Will at least help them operationally with their staff.

    Do we know the gate count changes?

    • CF says:

      noah – I haven’t seen any gate counts other than what AA ends up with. But I don’t know if others are gaining or losing.

    • Mike Power says:

      The MAT used to be a mess on a rainy evening back in the old 727/737/MD88 Shuttle days, so I would suspect that B6 will find it crowds up too. This is a short-term win until the new terminal opens in 2-3 years.

      For DL/AA this is an operational win with a much easier to manage operation. It seems to be a bigger operational win for DL even if its not a win for the small clientele that still loves the DC/ORD shuttles at the MAT. Everything is together in one building, they can move the E75s around the network much easier now and even upgrade some ORD/DCA flights to mainline (such as they do with BOS) at peek times. Plus it gives DL an opportunity to add ORD and DCA as destinations to the LGA mix. While there probably aren’t many people in SYR/BTV/MHT/YUL/BGR/CHO, etc who would want to fly through LGA to get to ORD or DCA there will be some crazy frequent fliers who jump at the change to earn MQMs. For shuttle passengers, the experience isn’t as private and fast but you do get the best (for the moment) terminal at LGA and a lounge.

      the real question is how long does it take for Richard Anderson to kill his old company’s DC shuttle? AA with the DCA hub holds onto the route longer, I think. But at some point in the not-so-distant future, flying between NYC and DC becomes just as stupid as flying to Philly or Albany. I have to imagine that DL realizes that it can make more money moving the DC slots to BOS and running a shuttle from there, Right? I’ll guess at my own question: the answer is the day after the law firms/banks/media companies drop the route from their corporate contract RFPs. But DL would be wise to push that along.

  4. Wany says:

    hmmm…So AA paid them and still have flights spread between all four concourses in B? That lonely B6 gate (was it belong to B6?) on the map hurts my eyes. Was United unwilling to help in this event (IIRC, those gates at the little corner at the end of concourse C are United gates, right?)

    • AA-Platinum says:

      Yes, UA still has the rest of C concourse

    • Chris says:

      Wany – you are correct. That’s what I was thinking re: United. I wonder if they were asked to participate and refused. They want to keep the highest volume Auntie Anne’s in America to themselves.

    • Yeah, the UA thing is odd. You’d think they’d jump at the chance to take concourse A to themselves. (with their partner Air Canada)

      The sole gate on concourse B is a bit of a unsolvable problem.. I’m sure Southwest would like to have it to themselves, but I doubt American is going to give it up. (It probably worked better when it was just Spirit there…

  5. flightwonk says:

    I may be in the minority here, but when I was a frequent Delta shuttle flyer (before I threw my business to American), I *despised* the MAT. At peak times, security’s not always a breeze. There’s no real TSA Precheck — instead, if you’re Precheck, you get a card saying you can keep your shoes on, but it’s the same line as everyone else. There’s no lounge to spend time in in the event of IRROPS. The food options stink. The seating area gets crowded for those Monday morning shuttles. When they moved the BOS shuttle over to C/D, I was ecstatic. I would think Delta flyers would be happy with the move — there are lots of positives.

    • Tower18 says:

      I think you’re the minority of shuttle travelers. People who took the shuttle over Amtrak prized their ability to drive in from Long Island or taxi from wherever, show up 15 minutes before the flight, and walk on. Maybe after getting a coffee. Yes the amenities were lacking, but that was hardly the point. They wanted hourly flights and wanted to show up immediately prior to the flight. Moving to C/D takes that benefit away and while you may never get the Long Island drivers, if I was Amtrak, I’d be picking up my marketing spend over this announcement.

      • flightwonk says:

        But at LGA terminals C/D, Delta still has dedicated Shuttle check-in and shorter cut-off times for Shuttle flights. Shuttle flyers aren’t losing much, if anything. You’ve got dedicated PreCheck at C/D and CLEAR as well. At peak times, C/D is faster to get through for me than MAT is.

  6. Chase says:

    It’s called La Garbage for a reason… I absolutely despise the place and will actively avoid AA going through there now. That map of their future placement hurts my eyes.

  7. Bob says:

    Delta has been inhibiting connections to/from the ORD and DCA shuttles at LGA for a while, both via pricing and via MCT rules. This should help both of those flights as they will now have an option to connect to the wide variety of flights available via LGA.

    • Tower18 says:

      There’s maybe some value in DCA connections, but I think Delta would probably prefer to connect NE-bound ORD passengers over DTW than LGA, regardless of terminal layout at LGA…and SE-bound at CVG or ATL. I’m not sure if there’s anywhere that has flights to LGA that doesn’t have flights to DTW.

  8. The only way LGA will ever be decent is if they add parallel runways and build new, functional terminals. Otherwise, everything they do is lipstick on a pig. I’ve flown through this place twice in my life and both times, it was a miserable experience.

  9. Also.. With all this shuffling I want to know why the dental office hasn’t been kicked out!

    (I’m serious.. the upper level of the CTB has a dental office..)

    http://laguardiaairport.com/wp-content/uploads/2017/05/LaGuardia-Terminal-B-5-11-17.pdf

  10. Rohan says:

    why did DL move its BOS shuttle over to C & D?

    • Noah Kimmel says:

      my understanding is so they can sell connections. In trying to grow BOS, Delta wanted to open more options for boston flyers. DTW can be a bit far west and Atlanta too far south. By moving to C at LGA, they could sell reasonable connections at both ends and up gauge to the 717 from the E70. In the MAT, you can’t easily get to the main terminals.

    • Mike Power says:

      As a BOS based flyer (who works in NYC), DL moved the shuttle to C so that it could sell connections and upgrade the shuttle back to mainline. The shuttle was becoming a repositioning /employee shuttle flight mid-day and weekends; today you’ll find at least 50% of the traffic is connecting between 10 am and 3pm and after 7pm. So DL is able to justify the hourly schedule and hold onto the lucrative biz traffic (shuttles still sell around $0.75 to 1.50 a mile which is a great premium in the airline business) while filling the plane with some feed to prevent a total loss.

      FWIW, US had starting selling connections on the shuttle soon after they took it over the bankrupt Trump Shuttle from the banks that owned it. DL had kept the old EA/PA/NYAir tradition of not selling connections on the shuttle until only a few years ago.

  11. Nicc HK says:

    As a regular flier into LGA I wish they could do something like renaming the Concourses in Terminal B from Concourse A, B, C, D to 1, 2, 3, & 4. Perhaps I am old and usually arrive late at night but I find the existing set up confusing.

  12. grichard says:

    Well, they could put a parallel runway on Rikers with probably little more than a bridge. In a rational world, LGA would expand its footprint, and NYC’s jail would move somewhere lower rent.

  13. dtana says:

    Like Sully said…why spend billions on new terminals in LGA….and not spend a penny on improving the runways(longer) at the U.S. airport with probably the highest accident rate .

  14. Tim Dunn says:

    Delta grew the number of passengers it flew from LGA to BOS when it moved the flights from the MAT to C. The same thing will happen on both LGA to DCA and ORD. The chances are high that both of those routes will seem some aircraft upgrades as well.
    LGA connections, when the work, are very effective at quickly connecting passengers. When they don’t, DTW becomes a reasonable connecting point to save the trip.

  15. henry says:

    “If you’ve been even remotely near the place, you haven’t had a good experience.”

    I was at Shea Stadium in 1996 and could feel how bad that place was.

  16. KOPA says:

    i have no idea who are all these tons of marine air terminal loving people other than some sort of online myth touted by bloggers. i’ve lived in manhattan for 13 years, work in the finance, and have yet to meet one.

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